"Diversity is different from affirmative action but it needs affirmative action to succeed. It is driven by moral rightness, but also by business rightness." Thus did Stephanie Springs, vice president of people and cultural diversity for Sears Roebuck and Company, conclude her keynote presentation to CBA students and faculty at the second annual diversity program held as part of Black History Month and as part of the MBA Minority Student Preview weekend.
Stephanie Springs, who calls herself a child of the '60s, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1970 (BS Education; MBA Finance, Loyola of Chicago). She enrolled as a transfer student from Michigan State, attracted back to her home state when the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), also know as Project 500, was announced. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, the university administration decided to make a strong statement in support of black rights, through an educational program. Designed to recruit inner city students from Chicago and elsewhere, the program enrolled 500 students, many of whom might not otherwise have been able to attend college. Special classes were offered during the summer preceding fall enrollment, to provide basic skills that might be lacking. Springs was a member of that first class. Her success is just one testament to the general success of the program.
In her remarks, Springs outlined the strategy for diversity she implemented at Sears and then extrapolated to apply this strategy to diversity in general. Her diversity strategy builds on the overall Sears strategy, which she introduced as a simple equation:
a compelling place to work X
a compelling place to shop =
a compelling place to invest.
For Stephanie Springs, diversity is an all-inclusive term that applies not only to race but to the disabled, the elderly, sexual orientation, women, and also majority groups. All groups need to be talking to and working with each other. Each minority group today represents a "large chunk of change," in the market place, according to Springs, so you need to target them for the manufacturing and marketing of products. For Sears, diversity equals inclusiveness, as it applies to customers, associates, work/lifestyles, and vendors. She is convinced that this is a good strategy for business. It is also a good strategy for life.
|Talking over the issues at the reception in Krannert Art Museum. Stephanie Springs, right, with Bill Bryan, Associate Dean for the MBA Program.|
Jointly sponsored by the College of Commerce and Business Administration, the Illinois MBA Program, the African American Business Society, the Latin American Business Society, and the National Association of Black Accountants, the diversity program opened with remarks by Fred Neumann, associate dean for academic affairs. In a far-ranging talk, Neumann observed that it is sometimes easy to identify the problem but not so easy to know how to address it. Difference is good, and should be preserved, but it should not be used to discriminate against any group. We need to minimize those differences that should not count (like race, sex, lifestyle) and magnify those that should (like cultural differences). There are some keys to addressing the problems minorities have faced in this country, according to Neumann. "Education, the ballot box, our courts, and just plain old fashioned discussion . . . can and do provide peaceful media for the solution of many of our ills. Persist in the right," is the advice he gave to the students in the audience. "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the great leaders and humanitarians of history, set us on the right course. His eloquence made the dream seem just over the next hill. But it will take the efforts of all of us and a lot more people of diversity and goodwill to bring it about." What is needed is the right, of everyone, "to pursue happiness on a more level playing field."
|Two other speakers completed the program. José Antonio Rosa, assistant professor of marketing, provided a brief overview of the advertising industry for the last century. "Marketing has been around for 150 years, but only in the last thirty years have minorities been treated as equals rather than stereotypes," Rosa explained. Marketing professionals generate the images we see in advertising based largely on their own experience. And until recently, this experience did not include minorities as role models in mainstream society. Today, things have changed and we are beginning to see members of many minority groups featured in mainstream advertising.|
José Antonio Rosa
|Nathaniel Banks, director of the African American Cultural Program at the University of Illinois, was the other featured speaker. He gave a brief historical sketch of life on campus for minorities. Although African American students have been part of the university from the time it was founded in 1867, black students could not live in university dorms until the mid 1900s. Champaign-Urbana was largely a segregated community. Project 500, already briefly discussed, was a huge leap forward. Banks reminded the audience that each generation builds on the achievements of the generations that have come before. He urged the students present not only to take advantage of the more diverse community that is open to them but to also to serve others in the culture who are less fortunate and have fewer opportunities.|
The program was followed by a reception and tour of the African Art Galleries, both at Krannert Art Museum.